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October 20, 2014
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Social progress stalling, warns UNDP

By Tomás Brockenshire
Herald Staff
Argentina keeps third position in region in ranking of social progress behind Chile, Cuba

Amid concerns that growth in human development indices have begun to slow down in Latin America and globally, the 2014 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report will be released today in Tokyo along with calls for public policies aimed at ensuring vulnerable populations receive universal social assistance.

“There are 45 million people that are living at the limits of their capacities and could fall back into poverty if faced with a negative shock,” such as a financial crisis, changes in food prices or environmental disaster, UNDP Human Development expert Alfredo González told the Herald yesterday.

González added that “just like in other regions, HDI in Latin America continues to increase but progress has slowed, particularly in the last few years in comparison to the 2000-2008 period... and there are vulnerabilities that threaten to revert that progress.”

The report specifies that Argentina has again been ranked third in the region and 49th globally in terms of its Human Development Index.

“We have to move past conditional cash transfers because they are simply not enough,” pointing instead to the need to think about public policies that “establish a universal social floor for various stages of life and for structurally vulnerable populations,” González continued.

The UNDP defined vulnerable populations as the poor, women who continue to experience pervasive discrimination, the elderly and minorities such as indigenous groups, among others.

González also emphasized that “it is noteworthy that this year the report advocates policies geared toward full employment, which although being an old idea has been forgotten” and noted the positive impact for communities — above and beyond the benefits of increased incomes — for youth finding their first jobs and for increased regularization of labour, one of the major blights that the region faces.

According to the report — useful as a form of diagnosing problems and informing policy choices — Argentina has maintained its place as the third-best ranked Latin American country and 49th globally in terms of human development. Within the region, Chile and Cuba have a higher human development index (HDI) — the UNDP’s keynote indicator of welfare and development. Nonetheless, Argentina has placed second globally in terms of the Gender Development Index (GDI) and 74th with respect to the Gender Inequality Index (GII).

HDI in Argentina and Latin America

Argentina’s HDI score for 2013 of 0.808 places it within the Very High Human Development category, a term for the most developed of the countries analyzed by the UNDP and held by the country since the 2011 edition of the report. Also in the the same category, Chile has a 0.822 HDI (ranked 41st) and Cuba clocks in at 0.815 (ranked 44th), whereas Uruguay is the first of the High Human Development countries, ranked 50th with an HDI of 0.790.

The report uses data provided by national governments and other international organizations within the UN system.

Calculated as a combination of life expectancy at birth, expected and mean years of schooling and the Gross National Income per capita in terms of purchasing power parity, the HDI is considered by the UNDP a “summary measure for assessing long-term progress in three basic dimensions of human development.” The highest possible HDI result is 1, and the ranking is currently topped by Norway with a result of 0.944.

As pictured in the accompanying graph, Argentina’s HDI score has increased steadily from 2000 from 0.753 to the current high of 0.808. In the illustrated period and even since 1980, Argentina’s human development index has remained above the average HDI for Latin America, which has nonetheless grown 27.8 percent in that period compared to Argentina’s 21.5 percent.

The relatively stable growth in Argentina’s human development index is helpfully contrasted with the erratic nature of variables used to model average incomes. As shown in the same graph, the Gross National Income per capita has fluctuated along with the country’s boom and bust cycles.

Correction for inequality

As HDI is a composed of average values for income, education and life expectancy, the UNDP has also established an alternative index that captures the inequalities — not only in income, but in education and life expectancy — present in society and which are considered by the UNDP as a “loss in human development.”

Latin America is the most unequal region in the world in terms of income inequality, and so understandably the average losses reported in the 2014 report caused by inequality in terms of HDI in Latin America are greater than the global average. UNDP figures show that 36.6 percent of the losses to human development are due to the disparities in income inequality that persist in the region despite a period of sustained economic growth.

As demonstrated in the table above, the impact of the inequalities in the determinants of human development index are drastic, with countries like Brazil and Chile showing drastically reduced HDI results once inequality is taken into account. Similar results are evident in Colombia but to a lesser degree in Venezuela and Uruguay.

Argentina’s inequality-adjusted values drop it four places in the ranking — but following a tumble by Chile and the unavailability of data for Cuba it becomes the highest ranked in Latin America — and the “losses” for inequality are calculated by the UNDP are estimated to be 15.3 percent. In comparison, the average for Latin America is 24.5 percent and for the Very High Human Development countries a much smaller 12.3 percent.

Gender development and gender inequality

The 2014 report introduces a brand new index that encapsulates any differences between men and women. The Gender Development Index (GDI) — much like the inequality-adjusted HDI — seeks to pick up any discrepancies in the access that men and women have to the basic elements that constitute “human development.”

Argentina ranks second globally with respect to the GDI, and as such, the UNDP reports that there are no significant differences between men and women with respect to life expectancy, access to education and income per capita. The UNDP study shows that women in the country have a greater life expectancy and spend more years in educational establishments but nonetheless earn on average about half of what their male counterparts do in the workplace. The relative imbalance results in an about equal human development score between men and women, revealing one of the problems with the measurement.

However, variables specifically addressing gender-based inequalities included in the Gender Inequality Index (GII) — reproductive health, empowerment, and economic activity — further emphasize the point that there is a need for continued eat respect, with Argentina ranking 74th in the world. The data reveals that ARgentina has a relatively high maternal death ratio, with 77 deaths per 100,000 births according to data from 2010. Chile reported 25 deaths per 100,000 births and Peru 67.

Argentina’s neighbours also rank poorly in terms of the GII index, with the highest ranking in the region going to Costa Rica, ranked 63rd in the world.

While discussing the results with the Herald, González concluded that “it’s clear that doing more of the same we aren’t going to achieve anything more, we need new measures.”

Nonetheless, González ended on a positive note, saying “it’s governments in the region who are taking a leadership role, and the UNDP is providing technical assistance and accompanying them on this path.”

@tbrockenshire

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